Crawl Review – B-Movie Creature Feature with Bite
Alexandre Aja is no stranger to summer fun creature features, but in Crawl he upgrades from frenzied piranhas (Piranha 3D) wreaking havoc during summer break to predatory alligators menacing a family basement. The B-Movie excitement is still ever present but this time it’s also tinged with a sense of dread and unnerving levels of claustrophobia.
A Category 5 hurricane is hurtling its way towards Florida and emergency evacuation procedures have already begun. Unfortunately for aspiring University of Florida swimmer Hayley neither she, nor her sister, have heard from their dad, Dave, and both begin to worry that he is still at his Florida residence. Finding no sign of him at his post-divorce condo Hayley sets off to the old family home, with Sugar the dog in tow. After spotting Dave’s truck outside of the house Hayley descends into the cramped basement below where she finds him wounded and unconscious. With the storm worsening Hayley and Dave must escape the crawl space before it turns into a watery tomb. Only issue? The pack of vicious alligators that have taken residence there!
Crawl is a great example of the motto ‘Less is More’. It takes a simplistic concept and utilises suspense and character building to invest the audience in the characters struggle to survive. The setting brings with it an overwhelming tension and a sense of urgency throughout that thrusts the action forward from the moment we first glimpse an amber eye.
The story centres on its two main characters with everyone else who is introduced pretty much wearing a giant ‘Eat Me’ sign. Kaya Scodelario as Hayley and Barry Pepper as Dave completely commit to their roles and manage to still seem believable in their actions, even during the most insane scenes. The weight of their strained relationship brings unexpected heart to the film and drives the decisions made by the two without ever becoming too overbearing to the true nature of this film. We didn’t come to see a therapy session; we came to see people being attacked and savaged by ‘Apex Predators’.
With such a simple concept behind it Crawl really needed to pull all of its punches with the technical aspects and the jump scares. Cinematographer Maxime Alexander, a frequent Aja collaborator and clear horror enthusiast, really revels in creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. He utilises the murky shallow focus of his underwater shots to remind us that once the water levels rise, we are no longer at the top of the food chain. There is also some clear cinematic influence from producer Sam Raimi. Predatory tracking shots are used throughout, reminiscent of his early work on the Evil Dead Trilogy and his more recent tongue in cheek horror Drag Me to Hell. These are especially effective when we leave the stifling setting of the crawl space and venture into the terror of flooded open plains.
“Alligators are smashing through walls when they are least expected like scaly bulldozers.”
Jump scares seem to have become a little formulaic as of late, especially with The Conjuring Universe franchise seeming to write the rule book for them at the moment. They are quite easy to pre-empt in a lot of films now, with the signature score rise and ‘fool me once then give me the goods’ structure. Crawl bites through the rule book with sharpened teeth. Alligators are smashing through walls when they are least expected like scaly bulldozers. Pretty much every jump scare landed for me and it was nice to feel that excitement again. It’s not thought provoking like some of the amazing horror we’ve already had this year, but fuck yeah did it have me lifting my feet from the floor.
Clocking in at 87 minutes long this was a rare trip to the cinema this year that didn’t involve my ass going numb. Crawl knows it’s limitations on how far it can stretch a story with minimal locations, restricted characters and narrow plot progression. Instead it makes the most of every moment on screen, bringing a high octane predator vs prey story to life with ferocious attacks and just enough gore to keep horror hounds happy.
In all honestly I don’t always need an intense storyline. I mean I’ve watched and thoroughly enjoyed films like Sharknado, Ghost Shark and Lake Placid, clearly I can handle my monster nonsense. Crawl however made its menace, and it’s stakes so much more real. Call it disaster horror, call it a creature feature, call it absolutely ridiculous. No matter how you want to categorise it the one thing I think we can all agree on it that it’s just a really fun film.